Searching for Sugar Man [spoilers, duh]

Searching for Sugar Man. A man getting paid his dues 20 years later in the most magical of ways. Simply remarkable!

A musician lighting himself on fire while on stage, committing suicide in the most horrific of ways. A fan’s recollection is how Searching for Sugar Man starts.

What a story.

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez AKA Rodriguez writing and performing his poetic, grim observations of the working class and their unfair treatment in Detroit, circa mid-1970s. The hopes and dreams of being signed to a label, with Bob Dylan comparisons. A gig gone bad and the unpredictable music industry in the U.S. not paying an announce of attention. Dead in America, metaphorically, and literally, to those in South Africa, where he was kind of a big deal!

South Africa at the height of Apartheid is something I’ve never explored. I was astounded to hear the levels of control the government enforced, from controlling the news cycle to scratching out tracks containing unruly lyrics on I Wonder. Amidst all this, a copy of Rodriguez’s album, Cold Fact, makes its way into South Africa. It’s heard at a party. The anti-establishment lyrics instantly connect. Bootlegging ensues, word spreads, and Rodriguez is the voice of a movement. This isn’t cult status we’re talking, this is BIGGER THAN ELVIS. Bigger than The Rolling Stones. The impact and influence his music had is mind-boggling.

Rodriguez was none the wiser. Even with the bootlegging, Cold Fact went Gold ten times over. I won’t get into the farce of loyalties and Sussex; needless to say, Rodriguez wasn’t informed, and the people of South Africa are left wondering who this mysterious man is. There was nothing ever written about him in American publications, and the record sleeve had three names is all. No one knew where he was from, his real name, or how he died.

Two men wondered a little more than the rest. When the CD was finally released in the early 90s in South Africa, one wrote the intro to the inside sleeve, and asked why they know so little about Rodriguez. The other man saw said sleeve. They got in contact, exchanged notes, made a breakthrough about where Rodriguez was from, via his lyrics, and created a website to search for more information about the Sugar Man.

Getting in contact with Rodriguez’s former producer leads to excitement and a million questions, not the least of which is, “How did Rodriguez die?”. “What do you mean, die? He’s very much alive”.

I’d enjoyed the heck out of this documentary up to this point. It got infinitely better.

The revelation that Rodriguez was alive, going about his everyday construction job, never overly mournful about his “failed” music career was enough. He gets in contact with the two South African fans. They have the conversation of their life. Again, I was content.

It’s still not over though, folks.

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez sells out 5 concerts in a triumphant tour of South Africa, 20 odd years after his music reached their shores. On stage, to a packed audience, and overwhelming adoration, he finds his home.

I’ll say it again. What a story!

Documentary filmmakers are incredibly devoted to their craft. I bow down to you, Malik Bendjelloul. I have a newfound love for documentaries that became fully realised at SXSW this year. Searching for Sugar Man is up there with the best of what I’ve seen.

As much as I admire screenplays and fictional writing, there are millions of unbelievable, fascinating, real stories about this world that need to be told, and I love the Documentary for doing that.

I had no idea what to expect going into Searching for Sugar Man. All I’d heard was that it won the Audience Award at Sundance 2012. I’m glad I knew nothing else, and I came out of this learning a hell of a lot, beaming ear to ear.

A quick mention to the crowd. Memories came flooding back of watching Senna at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. It was an experience. The crowd heightened the emotions greatly, and it happened again today.

I love the Sydney Film Festival and the audience it brings to films.


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